Another nightmare exit for Canucks

May, 12, 2010
05/12/10
12:49
AM ET

Well, the good news for the Vancouver Canucks is Roberto Luongo's 12-year, $64 million contract extension kicks in next season, when he'll be earning a front-loaded $10 million salary.

Oh my.

Twelve months to the very day Luongo was torched for seven goals in Vancouver's stunning exit in Chicago, the Blackhawks were generous enough to travel two time zones and deliver the nightmare right at GM Place on Tuesday night.

Groundhog Day, anyone?

"Kept it under seven goals, so an improvement was made," Luongo told reporters in his postgame scrum, trying to find some levity in the situation.

I give him credit for facing the music right after the game, but it doesn't erase what happened on the ice.

The 5-1 victory Tuesday night again ended the Canucks' second-round series in six games; but this time you got the feeling the Blackhawks have stepped into the elite group of NHL contenders while the Canucks are stuck in the B group, a veteran team deservedly defeated for two straight postseasons by a younger team on the rise.

To be fair, Vancouver's blue-line corps was beaten up, a fact that can't go unsaid. But still, by the time Dustin Byfuglien put a shot past Luongo to make it 5-1, the story was about Luongo and nobody else. In three home games in this series, the Canucks' captain and franchise player gave up 16 goals. Unacceptable (and somewhat befuddling, really, given Luongo's solid performances at the United Center).

There's an Olympic gold medal in Luongo's 2009-10 season, but you have to think his lasting memory will be the Hawks filling the back of his net for a second spring in a row. The mock cheer he got from the GM Place faithful when he stopped a puck late in the third period? That's gotta hurt.

Luongo told us just how much he wanted to erase May 11, 2009, from his memory and came into this season motivated by that. Instead, he only added to his misery.

All of which will continue to dog Luongo's reputation as a player who has won nothing in the playoffs. Moving forward, how do Canucks fans feel about being on the hook for 12 more years of his deal? There will be a lot of soul-searching in Vancouver this summer.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, deservedly move on to the Western Conference finals for a second straight season, and this time, they won't be the wide-eyed new kids on the block. Instead, this is a team that found its A-game after playing .500 hockey for much of the second half of the season.

They've got four forward lines rolling like nobody's business, and just when you think you might have Jonathan Toews' top line bottled up for a few minutes, Kris Versteeg or Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp or, yes, that guy Marian Hossa comes along and pots one before you can catch your breath.

It's a relentless attack that only finds ways to beat itself when it's too impatient to wait for its chances. Otherwise, you're looking at the most dangerous offense in the NHL right now.

More importantly, the Hawks have quieted their goalie questions. Rookie Antti Niemi outplayed Luongo in the second round and gave the Hawks more than enough in net. Chicago doesn't need Niemi to steal a game, it just needs the rookie not to blow one. Sound familiar? It worked for Detroit for the past 15 years.

Up next is what should be a dynamite conference finals between San Jose and Chicago, two teams capable of a high-end pace that should blow our socks off. Can't wait.

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